So I am going to note, right now, that today’s post will be on some sensitive subjects, as I am going to talk about extremely bad behavior at the table between players, and about a few gamer men being absolute jerks. It was, supposedly, in good fun but it certainly didn’t pan out that way in practice. Consider this a trigger warning, as the following content touches on abusive behavior and virtual sexual assault.
Some years ago, when the main game system everyone played was 2nd Edition AD&D, I very briefly played with a group of people I was introduced to by an old friend from school. This group was very stereotypical in the nerds trying to be hardcore macho fashion, despite some of them being older than I am now and certainly old enough to know better. They all were playing evil characters, and looked askance at my true neutral character.
They were evil in the bland and banal fashion; they treated the experience as a chance to blow off steam by acting out the worst things they wanted to do when frustrated at work or out in society. Casual murder of townsfolk and sexual assault of barmaids and anything else that held still long enough for them to announce that they were going to do so, when they weren’t in a dungeon killing monsters. I was uncomfortable, but hoping they were just trying to mess with me and that this wasn’t the normal state of affairs.
Then came the night that the wife of the guy whose house we played at dropped in with the wives and girlfriends of the other players along to see what their male counterparts were up to. They wanted to join in on the game, so they had me roll up quick characters for them; one wanted to play a pixie, so I obliged and did a rough hack to make a playable pixie for her.
And then things took a turn down nightmare lane, as the others at the table decided that, having a pixie girl around, they would tie her up. As a sexual aid, right then and there, in the fantasy world. Mind, this was a young woman who had literally just walked into this house maybe fifteen minutes earlier. The one who decided to assault her character like this wasn’t her boyfriend or husband; she’d come along with her sister, whose boyfriend was willingly participating in this.
The men were plain doing it to make the women uncomfortable and restore the sanctity of their Man Space by driving them off; I don’t know how it panned out, as I made excuses about the time and work and left. In retrospect, I should have talked to one of the women and offered to run a game without that group of abusive jerks around if they wanted, and I should have told the others at the table off for doing that in the first place. I can only say that I was young, uncertain, and surrounded by a bunch of guys who were suddenly rather more frightening than their previously disturbing behavior had suggested.
This, people, is why we need to keep an eye out for those quietly creepy jerks at the table who try to use ‘it was just a joke’ as a defense for harassing others at the table. There are toxic people in our hobby, like in every hobby, and they’re the reason the phrases nerd and geek have been associated with unwanted and socially inept people for so long. Don’t let them maintain that as a disguise when they’re the reason the description persists even now, and the reason why we have a harassment problem at conventions and game stores. They’re brothers to the gatekeepers, and sometimes the same person doing both, trying to make their targets out as inferior and therefore deserving targets of their abuses.
Don’t let it happen. Our hobby is where uncertain trans people can feel comfortable playing a character of their actual gender, where ethnic and religious divisions don’t have to matter. Anyone can be a geek, and we’re all the richer for it when people who aren’t generic white boys get welcomed to come roll the dice with the rest of us. My wife is a gamer, but if she’d had just the kind of jerks like the ones around that table as her game experience, I doubt she’d have stayed in the hobby where we finally met. Plenty of women who are important to the entire industry of our hobby might not have stayed, and plenty of others have left thanks to this bad behavior.
So please, watch for it and don’t let it happen. Welcome everyone to your table, but don’t let them act poorly. Don’t let the ones who use ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ as a shield for their shitty behavior get away with it.